Taking A Trip With 2000 Chinese Kids
We eight Americans and our Chinese associates piled off our mini van at the famous Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu, China, just as 2,000 local primary school kids arrived for field trips. Neatly dressed in identical tracksuits and backpacks, they followed their teachers through the entrance gate and up the ramp to the pandas.
English is not used here, so when I asked one of the teachers about her class trip I needed help: “It is very special for the students to see live pandas; they are our national symbol,” she explained,” her remarks translated by Lois Liu, vice president of the US-China Tourism Association (UCEA), who organized our trip. Pandas there were: 10-month old cubs to full-grown adults, munching bamboo, wrestling on the ground and snoozing in the trees. But the kids only had eyes for us.
Pandas they can see: Westerners are rare in Chengdu. We saw only two during our 5-day visit and they also were at the panda center. The kids swarmed around us. They waved scraps of paper, backs of books, and notebooks for our autographs, posed for photos, (they would never see), made V signs with their hands, and giggling tried out a few words of English: “Hello” “What’s your name?”
“They study English in school,” said Skylan, (she uses one name) a representative from Chengdu Culture and Tourism, sponsor of our trip, who accompanied us during our visit. “In fact, China’s education system is similar to yours,” she said. “There are public schools and private schools. Public elementary (ages 7-12; 6 years) and middle school (3 years) are compulsory and free; but there are fees for books,” she added. “Kids who can’t afford book fees get help from the government. There also are colleges and trade schools, which are not free. If you don’t go to college, you might go to a trade school,” she said.
Primary schools start at 8 or 8:30 and end at 4 or 4:30 PM, with a break for lunch. Middle schools start at 8 a.m. and might end at 5 or 6 p.m. Skylan studied philosophy, and has a Masters in international business. “I chose to work in tourism because I like it,” she said.
The panda center was our first stop in Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan (familiar in the West for its spicy cuisine). Last May, an earthquake hit northeastern Sichuan, leaving Chengdu relatively unharmed, but tourism has since plummeted and our group was there to see the city and surrounding sights and report on safety issues, which can be summed up: there are none.
Chengdu while mindful of the past disaster has moved on: it is lively and exceptionally beautiful with flowering primrose trees, begonias, lush bamboo groves and traces of its ancient past. Orange and apple trees and rice paddies lined our route, which led us to sacred sites, old towns, and villages and a rock-cut Buddha from 715 AD. Everywhere, smiling children looked at us looking at the sights.#